The Story of a Museum Box

08 November 2017

Imagine being one of the paper boxes in our repository. Our archivist Helen will give you a unique glimpse into a life of a museum box.

Hello, I am one of the thousands of boxes in the Royal Mail Archive (part of The Postal Museum). I contain historic files on overtime of postmen dating to around 1915.

Box closed in the repository

Box opened in the repository

A few years ago, I started to suspect that something different might be happening. One of the archivists came and took me off the shelf and checked my contents. She looked at whether the file fitted comfortably or if my lid was being pushed off by my contents. She also noted how much the file moved around within the box, and how well protected the pages were within the file jacket. I saw her making notes of all this information into her laptop. She has also done the same for all the boxes stored around me.

How the archivist recorded assessment of the box

Things continued as normal for a few months and then I was removed from the shelf and taken up to the Search Room where I had previously been consulted by researchers. On this occasion, I was not presented to a researcher, but instead to a volunteer. This volunteer then began to work to rehouse the unique file I contained. The volunteer firstly created extensions-which made me taller and meant that the file stopped pushing the lid off. Then they packed around the file with protective filling which prevented the file moving from side to side.

Volunteers busy rehousing my contents

I was then returned to my shelf and left undisturbed for several months. The next time I was taken off the shelf was to have my measurements taken. My height, width and depth were all recorded. At this stage, I was sure something big must be happening. Over the previous year, I had been inspected and retrieved for more regularly than I had been for many years. I had also seen other boxes around me undergoing similar attention.

Waiting to be unpacked in my new home

In June 2017, it finally became clear what all this effort had been leading up to. The repository where I was stored was suddenly a hive of activity. Every day there were archive staff and external contractors working in the space and it slowly began to empty of its contents. Other boxes on my shelf disappeared first and I wondered where my neighbours had disappeared to.

Eventually, it was my turn. I was taken off the shelf, put on a trolley and then loaded onto a van with dozens of other trolleys. After a short drive along the road, I was unloaded and moved into a new purpose-built repository. Rather than being reunited with my old neighbours I was placed on a shelf with other boxes of a similar height. I knew that my old neighbours must be nearby.

My old home, now empty

I am now settling into my new home. I’m getting to know my new neighbours and starting to realise how diverse we are. The other boxes on my shelf include files on official secrecy, holiday clubs, and post office furniture. I am looking forward to visiting the new Discovery Room and helping researchers to learn more about postmen’s overtime.

Discovery Room at The Postal Museum

Come and view me and the other records in our new Discovery Room, open Tuesday to Saturday from 10.00 – 17.00.

– The Postal Museum Archive Box (written by Helen Dafter, Archivist)